Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"On my first day of Ulpan my teacher gave to me..."

. . . a Government voucher to lean Hebrew for free" (Sung to the tune of "On the First Day of Christmas...a partridge in a pear tree").

"Ulpan" means "Hebrew School." This is where we go to learn the Hebrew language on the "5/5/5" Program - 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 5 months.

I arrived at my Ulpan class this morning at 8am and was officially enrolled (hence the reference to the Government Voucher, which allows New Immigrants like myself to study for free.)

I walked into my new class expecting it to be full of . . . people like me?

Wrong - so wrong!

The class was made up of an entirely unexpected international and domestic mix of students. Loch, a bearded and studious young man from Texas, was the only other American. I discovered after class that he is a Gentile (non-Jew) born and raised in Beaumont, Texas (Bible Belt!) in a family of Pentecostals and Methodists.

"It's all that Bible readin', " he said with a real Texas drawl. "I'm from the Bible Belt and I just had to find the buckle of the belt, y'know what I mean? And that there buckle, it's Israel and the Jewish people." Loch (whose original name I suspect may have been "Luke") is not only studying the Hebrew language but is studying for formal conversion to Judaism via the only State of Israel-recognized conversion process: strict Orthodoxy.

I didn't ask (of course), but I pray he already has had his Brit Milah (circumcision) in the hospital in Beaumont, Texas when he was born. If not, he's a really brave young man - not only for going through the 5/5/5 class and the formal Orthodox conversion process, but because if he isn't circumcised...he will be soon!

Also in the class were Makonan and Abedee, two New Immigrants from Ethiopia, and Danielle, a New Immigrant from Mexico. I believe that Makonan and Abedee (who are both as beautifully black as the desert night) and Danielle (who is a gorgeous young Mexican woman) and I are the only Jews in the class.

Our other International and non-Jewish classmates consist of Enzo from Italy, Keddie from Thailand, and Kamar from Nepal. Enzo and Keddie are tourists who love Israel and want to learn Hebrew, and Kamar is employed here in some as-yet undisclosed capacity and needs to learn Hebrew for her job.

Most surprisingly to me, our "domestic" enrollees are Hassan, Malik, Heni, Yazar and Omar - all young men from East Jerusalem, who only speak Arabic and some smatterings of other languages such as "tourist English" or "tourist French," but who went to Arabic-only schools growing up and now want to learn to speak Hebrew so they can get better jobs, go on to University studies, etc.

So - Ulpan summary: Jews (4) - two African, one Hispanic, and me, an Ashkenazi (descended from Eastern European Jewish immigrants) "white girl" from the San Fernando Valley by way of Long Beach, California.

Potential Jewish Converts: (1) - a self-described "Redneck" from Texas.
International non-Jewish Tourists - (3) - Italy, Thailand and Nepal.
Israeli Arabs - (5) - all who grew up in the Old City and East Jerusalem and speak practically not one single word of Hebrew.

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals," said the former Pharisee and star pupil of Rabbi Gamalil the Elder, a.k.a. Saul of Tarsus (better known as the Apostle Paul). If I speak the Hebrew language perfectly but have not "charity" (in Greek: "Agape," unconditional love) for my fellow students, I am become like a noisy, off-key cacophony of meaningless sound. Lord help me to learn Hebrew, AND to drop my pre-conceived notions about everyone else long enough to get to know...real people!

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